Chief Justice Roberts? Really?

02/21/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Constitution says that a president-elect becomes the president automatically, at the stroke of noon on the appointed day, meaning that Barack Obama had already been president for a few minutes by the time he took the oath of office.

So the nervous flubs by Chief Justice John Roberts didn't matter -- the misplacing of the adverb ''faithfully'' or saying ''president TO the United States.'' He just goofed by thinking he could recite it from memory, proving that even the strictest constructionist should always write it down, just in case.

Legal scholar Jeffrey Rosen is quoted as saying that Chief Justice William Howard Taft messed it up when he swore in Herbert Hoover -- and as a former president himself, Taft should have known better.

What struck me, though, was the way Roberts ended the oath. The language of the oath, in Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution does not include the words ''so help me God.'' Presidents have added that part themselves ever since FDR.

But the Chief Justice, instead of simply stating -- that is, administering -- that phrase for the new president to restate himself, just like the rest of the oath, made it into a question. He posed, ``So help you God?'' as if he were interrogating Obama about whether he does believe in God.

Maybe that was just a nervous outcome of Roberts' earlier gaffes. But the courtroom cross-exam Q-and-A tone of it rang unhappily on the ear.